Today I had two encounters about speaking the truth in love. In both conversations the parties were wrestling with the burden of carrying wisdom that others were not yet ready to hear. What is the good of wisdom if it is not immediately transferable? We read Jesus’ brief parable: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52).
But Jesus is not referring to a divine yard sale where everything one has received is immediately placed on display. He is, rather, offering us a picture of a multi-faceted jewel in which one facet at a time is offered for the sake of others. Some truths we have carried a long time. Other insights we received yesterday. The longer we dwell with “Lady Wisdom” the more we realize that not every good thing can be set on the table at the same time.
One can carry the core of a real truth, but learning when to speak that truth may be almost as important as the truth itself. True words out of season can overwhelm and even inoculate against that same word spoken in season. “When” is as much a feature of wisdom as “what.”We are made to carry a whole treasure, not a single facet. But a single facet, like “speak the truth in love” is often enough for the moment. The whole jewel is no less beautiful because it is hidden. Nor, ultimately, is it any less “useful.” Loving others enough to wait for the right season to speak has a way of keeping the whole treasure well polished and ready to be revealed in the right setting.
This characteristic of wisdom is so important with our children, who are not yet dug deep enough to hold all the treasure we carry. Waiting, frequently for years, can be the role of wise parenting. And, I think, not waiting, trying to get our children to hear our hard-won wisdom prematurely, only inoculates them against that same truth. Later, when they are ready, they will think they already know what we are offering to them, rather than hearing it in all its living beauty.
What to say. When to say it. This is the vocation of a scribe who brings out things old and new. We need wise, timely scribes in our lives and in our world. It is a lovely, albeit potent, vocation requiring deep discernment.